"Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders and they will tell you" -- Deuteronomy 32:7
"They say when an older person dies, a whole library goes with him"- unknown author
A Lack of Family Tradition
Several disruptions in our family have led to a dearth of traditions regarding the history of our Prussian ancestors. For instance, there were several, early deaths of a parent. Back in 1918, during the Spanish Flu epidemic, my father lost his mother when he was only a week old. He was then fostered by his fatherís sister, but then she died at the early age of 50 when my father was about fifteen. I have the impression that my fatherís biological father, Otto Karl Streich, and his step father, Robert William Kramp, both of whom were born in Germany, did not talk much to their children- especially about who were their parents, where they came from, or their childhood. Indeed, my father was never told of the tragic circumstances surrounding his own birth until he was teenager. His biological family, including his 5 older siblings, lived nearby in the next county, but they were referred to as his cousins. In youthful impulse and anger, and thinking his biological family had abandoned him, he legally adopted the surname of his foster family and became a Kramp.
My fatherís mother was not the only ancestor to die young. While searching my roots, I discovered that Otto Streich lost his father when he was only 8 years old. This was in 1885- only two or three years after the Streich family arrived in America. This was a particularly tough time to lose the bread winner of the family. Ottoís mother, Mrs. Henrietta Strike, nee. Henrietta Hohnke, was left with three young children: Otto, Julius and Martha. Three years after the death of her first Husband, Henrietta married Charles Michael Wagner, another recently arrived German immigrant. I find it peculiar that nobody in our family seems to know for certain what was the given name of Henrietta Hohnkeís first husband. Some say it was August Streich; others say it was Karl. Karl was the middle name of both my father and his father.
So, why was my great grandfatherís given name not known to his descendants? Was it the language barrier? Was it a desire to forget the past however painful it might have been? Was it a desire to forget their German heritage and assimilate into American culture- especially during the years of anti- German sentiment prior to the Great War. Or was it because there were not many elders around to tell the story of the early days? I donít know for sure. But for whatever reason, there was little communication among our immigrant families, particularly between the German-speaking parents and their American-born children.
I recall an elderly aunt who, when she was a child, remembered my grandfather, Otto Streich, coming to visit his step sister, Bertha Wagner, at their home in West Moshannon, PA. Otto and Bertha were the same age, born 1877, in Prussia. The aunt could hear them talking in the downstairs kitchen over cups of coffee until the wee hours of morning. But they talked in German, and my aunt had no clue of what they were saying. Itís a shame, because there were probably a few stories about the early years that are now lost forever. Perhaps they were gossiping about the disappearance of Otto Streichís brother, Julius Streich, who ran away from his step fatherís household around the turn of the century. He was never heard of again- another broken link with our past.
With no family traditions or history to go by, especially regarding the early days, I turned to civil documents and church records to find more specific information on our familyís origins:
1. From The Kirchenbuch der Ev. Lutherishes St. Johannes Germ. zu Houtzdale,
PA (the church book of Saint John's German Evangelical Lutheran Church
of Houtzdale): On 12 Dec 1902, Pastor E. A. Born performed a double wedding
ceremony at the home of Charles M. Wagner, in West Moshannon (also known
as West Houtzdale), Clearfield County, PA. The Kuchenbuch, written in German
at this time, gave birth places of the wedding parties. The siblings, Robert
W. Kramp, b. 1873, and Bertha Johanna Kramp, b. 1875, were both born in
Hinterpommern They married respectively, Martha "Streich", who was
born 1883 in Peale, Pennsylvania, and Wilhelm Wegner, who was born 1875,
in Lauenburg, Hinterpommern.
|Fig P-1. St Johns German Evangelical Lutheran church of Houtzdale, PA, organized in 1886. About 1973, the congregation was merged with that of the Swedish Lutherans and services are now held at Faith United Lutheran Church. The Kirchenbuch of St John's was a godsend for this genealogist. It provided most of the evidence I needed to construct the genealogy of my family, particularly the specific Prussian Kries (counties) from which they emigrated. Unfortunately, this historic church of my forefathers was dismantled in 1998. Photo by RC Kramp, 1992.|
2. A loose paper, written in old style German, was found in the home of Wilhelm and Bertha (Kramp) Wagner and given to me by their daughter. The paper contained a hand written memorial to Bertha Kramp on the occasion of her christening (see original paper and an interesting story of discovery). Translated, it reads:
That is what I am giving you, my beautiful child, who is pleased by God.
Grow up in His honor and to your parents joy
Then you will obtain the glory here and there in eternity.
3. The Krichenbuch of St John's records under "Deaths" that Henrietta Wagner, [nee. Hohnke] died 27 Jan 1922. Her birth was given as 30 Aug 1842 at "P. Posen, W. Prussia, Germany".
4. The Petition for Naturalization (1914) for Otto Strike, my grandfather, states he was born 20 May 1877 in "Posan, Germany". It also states he embarked from Bremen, Germany, on 25 Feb 1884, and apparently arrived one day later at NY, on 26 Feb 1884, on the vessel "Albe". Obviously, there is a discrepancy over the dates of departure or arrival. By contrast, Otto's Declaration of Intention (1911) states he arrived at NY on 26 Mar 1884, one month later than that mentioned in his Petition. In looking over passenger lists at the National Archives for the steam ship Elbe rather that Albe, I have failed to find an entry for Otto Streich for this period. Even if I do find him on a captainís manifest, I doubt if I would find mention of a specific place of birth, other than simply, "Germany".
Thus, the KRAMP family emigrated from Kreis Stolp, and the WAGNER family came from Kreis Lauenburg. Kreis is German for district which is equivalent to our County. Both of these Kreis were in Hinterpommern in the far eastern portion of Pomerania as it existed before the turn of the century. Furthurmore, we now have specific geographical information that one of the Kramp children, Bertha, was christened in the village of Beckel, Kr. Stolp.
The STREICH and HOHNKE families, on the other hand, apparently emigrated
from Posen, an area south of Pommern but still in Prussia. Unfortunately,
Posen is also the capital city of the Province of Posen. Since the birth
place stated for Henrietta was "P. Posen", it is likely that she was born
in the Province rather that the city of Posen. Thus, we must
perform a Province-wide search for these families.
|Fig. P-2. This Pommeranian wedding party includes, right to left, der Brautigau (bridegroom) and die Braut (bride), and Herr Pastor. The fourth person, far left, is der Hochzeitbitter. He traveled around the community with a staff and bells and invited others to the wedding. These Pommeranian costumes or "tracht" on wooden models were propped in the home of Ron and Elaine, members of Die Pommersher Verein Freistadt- a German genealogy and cultural history group which presents an ethnic festival each June in Milwaukee, WI.|
Since the end of the 19th century, the regions from which my Prussian ancestors emigrated have changed substantially- both politically and ethnically. The Provinces of Posen, Pomerania and West Prussia which were regions in the Kingdom of Prussia during the 19th century were partially surrendered to the Republic of Poland when that nation was reestablished after WW I. After the Second World War, these Provinces were totally encompassed by Poland. The ethnic Germans in these lands were evicted and the previously Germanized names for villages and other place names, such as rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges, were renamed in Polish. The provincial districts of Poland itself have seen several changes since WW II. In Jan 1999, the provinces (voivodships) were coalesced and reduced from 49 to 16 new provinces. The former Provinces of Stolp (Pol.= Slupsk) and Lauenburg (Lebork) are both now in the Province of Pomorski (Wojewodztwo Pomorskie). The former Posen or Poznan is now Woj. Wielkopolskie.
Confused and overwhelmed as I was? The Anglo-Saxon etymology of our English language makes it difficult for us Americans to pronounce the 20th century Polish place names let alone keep them in mind. Even my keyboard does not allow the correct characters to be typed for the names above. Thus, we should be grateful to a Pole, a native of Poznan (formerly called Posen in German), who created an English language edition of a web site called a Genealogical Guide to Poland. It discusses in a detailed and graphic manner the numerous border changes that have occurred over the last 200 years in the area now called Poland. The web author noted that Poland was once a land of diverse ethnic peoples- German, Polish, Jewish, Russian, Selesian and others- but is now populated almost 100 percent with people of Polish extraction.
Another difficulty in researching Prussian ancestors is that vital records are widely dispersed; or in other words, they are not centrally located or have been destroyed all together. Apparently, after WW II, there was so much anti-German sentiment that many records were simply trashed as the Germans retreated westward. I have read stories about tombstones in Lutheran church yards being demolished and the shards used to pave roads. At the very least, many of these German cemeteries have been severely neglected since the Germans were evicted. After the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall in 1990, I believe there is a little more sympathy for preserving German antiquities in Poland, including genealogical records. Itís good capitalistic business.
Referring to the loss of records particularly in the former Prussian regions of Poland, Horst Reschke, a genealogist specializing in German records, declared (Heritage Quest, vol 15, no. 3, May/June 1999, p 103):
In short, since I do not have a specific town from which my Prussian
ancestors emigrated, particularly those born in Posen, I believe I am in
for a long haul.
They first settled WHERE?
Not only did the political and ethnic enclaves of my Prussian forbears vanish, but it turns out that the town on this side of the Atlantic to which they first immigrated is now only a ghost town. The first indication of where my Prussian ancestors initially settled in America, was in the Kirchenbuch of St John's Lutheran Church. It stated that Martha Streich was born in Peale in June 1883. But, Peale was not on any road maps that I owned. The Clearfield Progress shed light on this conundrum. In fact, the newspaperís archives contain a couple of articles on the "Ghost Town of Peale". Peale was once a company town of over 200 buildings erected by the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Company about the same time Martha Striech was born- in the early 1880's. However, around the turn of the century, the coal in the mines was exhausted. The town existed for a few more years as the occupants continued to mine clay for making bricks. But then in the early 1900's, the whole damned town- every house, church, school house, and store- was loaded onto railway cars and transported to other locations. The former town of Peale, in Cooper Township, Clearfield County, is today nothing more than a wooded bank beside the Red Moshannon Creek. The only thing left behind was one frame building and a cemetery in which just one marker survives today. And as luck would have it, the name on the marker is no relation of mine.
A few years ago, an aunt informed me that the Kramp family also first settled in Peale before they moved south, up the Moshannon Creek, to Ramey in Bigler township. She recalled that her mother, Bertha Kramp, used to complain about the wildness of the place and the many snakes underfoot.
|Fig P-4. This gravestone for Martha Renfrew (d. 16 Mar 1886, age 74) is the only memorial still standing (1997) in the once extensive graveyard at the "ghost town" of Peale in Cooper Twp, Clearfield Co, PA. Our immigrant Prussian ancestors settled here first in early 1880's before the town's mines "dried up" and the entire town was loaded onto rail cars and moved to Grassflats and other locations. The town residents scattered. Some, like my ancestors, went to Woodward or Bigler Twps. HOWEVER, is my great grandfather, Karl Streich, who died in 1885, buried here at Peale? Photo by RC Kramp, 1992.|
|Fig. P-5. The only surviving structure remaining in the ghost town of Peale is this building which may have been the Company store. The building is now leased to a private hunt club. The surrounding land is still owned by Clearfield Butuminous Coal (CBC) Company.|
|Fig. P-6. Just down the gravel road from the hunt club is this bridge over the Red Moshannon Creek. The red color of the creek bed, like many creeks in the area, is caused by the iron content in the water which is draining from abandoned mines. Outing clubs from nearby Pennsylvania State Univ at State College have a canoe festival here in the spring.|
|Fig. P-7. Moravian Run. This delightful, primitive looking creek used to run through Peale. Its amazing how nature can take over what man had once wrought. Yet one can still see mounds of slag (mine waste products) throughout the forest.|
|Fig. P-8. Reportedly, this is the Lutheran Church that once stood in Peale. It was transported to Grassflat; the steeple removed; and in 1996, was a private dwelling. The house sits next to a graveyard maintained by the Lanse Lutheran church (which is located several blocks away). The home owner, who allowed me to take this photo, said the former church has been at its present location since 1916. There were no church records in the structure.|
|Fig P-9. The "Devel's Five"- Houses that were formerly owned by the CBC (Coal) Company which were transported from the ghost town of Peale to Grassflats after the coal mines in Peale were exhaused. Grassflates is in Cooper Twp, Clearfield Co, PA.|
However, there is hope. My Prussian ancestors- the Streich, Hohnke, Kramp, and Wagner families- worshiped at the St Johnís German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houtzdale. The "German Evangelical" appellation was dropped during WW I. The Church was the social, religious, and ethnic center of this German community. Naturally, other families tied in through marriage, such as the Sechinger, Rehbeine, Srock (Schrock), Hiller, Viebahn, and Lorenzen families. The Kirchenbuch mentions several place names in former Prussia from where these families emigrated. I believe somewhere in the Houtzdale area, a descendent of one of these families will come forth with information that will provide more specifics about the land from which they came.
1. The earliest Streich (Strike) of our family died 29 Oct 1885 according to the 1888 marriage application of Mr. Streichís widow, Henrietta Streich, nee. Hohnke, to her second husband, Charles Michael Wagner. Mr. Streich and Henrietta Hohnke were my great grandparents and these ancestors are presently my "brick wall".
2. I do not know Mr. Streichís first name or where he is buried. I do not know when or where he was born, but his wife, Henrietta, was born in 1841, in the Province of Posen, Prussia, which is today, Poland. The couple was probably married in Posen, as their first two children, Otto and Julius, were born in the same Province. The Province is called Weilkopolskie in present-day Poland. The third child, Martha Streich was born in Peale, Clearfield County, PA, but that particular town was completely relocated over 80 years ago.
3. Johann Kramp came to America in 1881 followed three years later by his wife, Johanna, born Marsh, and their fist six children. Two more children were born in Clearfield Co, PA, but soon afterwards, the mother, Johanna, died. The third child, Robert William Kramp married Martha Streich and they adopted Marthaís nephew, Robert Karl Strike, who then changed his name to Robert Carl Kramp (my father).
4. Johann and Johanna Kramp baptized a daughter, Berta, at village of Beckel, Kreis Stolp, in eastern Pomerania (Hinter Pommern) which is the most specific locality indentified so far for any of my ancestral homelands in the former Kingdom of Prussia.
4. My Prussian immigrants worshipped at St Johnís Evangelical (German) Lutheran Church of Houtzdale, Clearfield Co, PA.
5. My early Prussian ancestors did not talk much to their children about their past.
6. Finding records of vital statistics is very difficult, if not impossible,
in the former Prussian Provinces that later became districts in present-day